Yale President Richard Levin announced on Thursday that he has appointed Amy Meyers GRD ’85 to be the new director of the Yale Center for British Art — the largest museum of its kind outside of Britain.
For the past 13 years Meyers has worked at the Henry E. Huntington library in California, where she is currently the curator of American art. She has also worked at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery.
“She has distinguished herself as an outstanding and imaginative leader in the field of research and a singularly adept administrator at some of the nation’s prominent museums, galleries and research centers,” Levin said in a written statement about Meyers’ appointment.
Meyers is on sabbatical and could not be reached for comment. She will take up the post in September.
Last March, former Director Patrick McCaughey announced he was leaving the museum at the end of his five-year contract. Constance Clement has been the acting director since June.
Meyers’ hiring also comes on the heels of the departure of Malcolm Warner, a well-respected curator at the British Art Center, to a museum in Texas.
Over the last year, the New Haven arts scene has undergone a stark change in leadership — the directors of seven of the city’s major organizations, from the Drama School to the Long Wharf Theatre, have left.
“It was a very unusual situation,” said Frances “Bitsie” Clark, the executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven.
With Meyer’s hiring Yale and the city have, for now, plugged the last hole of what at this time last year looked like a leaky ship. All seven arts organizations have now appointed new leaders. Clark said that some of the turnover was expected, that some departures were abrupt, and that not all of the departures were voluntary.
“But a new person brings new ideas and new blood,” she said. “Especially in the [visual] arts, leaders have personal visions that make it exciting.”
Under McCaughey, the British Art Center moved to acquire more contemporary and avant-garde British art, and the museum’s attendance rose steadily.
But Meyers’ interests are appreciably different. Her scholarly work explored colonial American naturalists, who painted flora and fauna, and most of her professional career has been spent curating American art.
Nevertheless, the job of a museum director is a complicated one: the director is a chief overseeing the competing fiefdoms of painting, sculpture, public relations and museum finance. Leadership, not scholarship, is king, and Meyers’ appointment has been well-received.
“She’s a very intelligent, experienced person,” said Jules Prawn, an art history professor, a member of the search committee for the new director, and Meyers’ former thesis advisor. “She has an understanding of scholarship and art, and the linkage between them.”
Meyers has spent most of her professional career in research institutes, where her work has been universally praised. She will be the first full-time female director of the British Art Center, although Clement has been acting director twice. The Yale University Art Gallery has had several female directors.